ORONO — The difference between a nationally ranked playoff contender and a program trying to get to that level was on full display Saturday at Alfond Stadium.

Villanova emphatically ended the University of Maine’s five-game winning streak with a 26-7 victory by playing nearly flawless football while the Black Bears suffered several damaging self-inflicted mistakes.

Sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk had the game of his life for the Wildcats, throwing for a career-high 326 yards and tying his career high with three touchdown passes.

The loss dropped Maine to 5-4 overall, 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Villanova – ranked 10th or 12th in national polls – improved to 7-2, 5-1.

The Black Bears must win their final two games – next week at Stony Brook and at home Nov. 19 against New Hampshire – to have any chance of making the NCAA playoffs.

“Didn’t play well enough,” said Coach Joe Harasymiak. “Didn’t make enough plays. They made more plays. They won.”

It was pretty much that simple. Maine was on the wrong end of several key statistics:

n Bednarczyk was nearly perfect (23-of-31 passing) with four completions of at least 32 yards; Dan Collins of Maine threw four interceptions – two in the end zone, including on Maine’s first drive. “Bad decision-making,” said Collins. “Bad plays by me.”

n Patrick Leonard missed a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter with Maine trailing 3-0; Gerard Smith of Villanova kicked the two longest field goals of his career, 42 and 43 yards.

n Villanova didn’t commit a penalty; Maine committed six for 50 yards.

n Villanova was 4 of 4 in red- zone trips, three for touchdowns; Maine was 0 of 5 inside the 20, three ending with interceptions.

Harasymiak noted that the Black Bears gained 334 yards against a defense ranked No. 1 in the CAA, giving up just under 260 a game. But, he added, going 0 of 5 in the red zone negated a lot of the good work Maine did.

“That’s brutal,” he said. “You’re not going to beat that team or any team that’s ranked going 0 for 5 in the red zone. That’s literally the game right there.”

There were several key moments as well. On its first drive, Maine moved to a third-and-goal at the Villanova 8 when Collins threw into double coverage and was intercepted by Jason Ceneus in the end zone.

Then, trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Sterling Sheffield of Maine recovered a fumbled Wildcats punt at the 22. Maine moved to the 7 but stalled. Leonard missed a 24-yard field goal. The NCAA game summary said the kick was wide left, but after the game the Maine coach said it was wide right.

“It’s embarrassing we can’t make that kick,” said Harasymiak.

Collins threw his second interception just before the half at midfield. The Wildcats turned that into a 17-yard touchdown pass from Bednarczyk to Brandon Chadbourn with 11 seconds remaining to make it 10-0.

Freshman Earnest Edwards got Maine right back in it with an electrifying 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter.

Then, trailing 13-7, the Black Bears again drove inside the 10. But on second down from the 3, a shotgun snap from center Max Andrews went past Collins, low and to his left, resulting in a 7-yard loss. Maine turned the ball over on downs at the 21.

Villanova then drove 79 yards to go ahead 19-7 when Bednarczyk found tight end Ryan Bell for an 8-yard touchdown pass. The two hooked up again early in the fourth quarter, this time with Bell making a leaping catch in the back left corner of the end zone from 7 yards and it was 26-7 with 12:16 remaining.

“What a game,” said Andy Talley, the retiring Villanova coach. “Maine played exactly the way I felt they would play. They came in tough, hard-nosed, gave us fits. It was one of those games where we knew we were going to have to make plays in the passing game.

“I think the big plays in the passing game for us were the difference. And our defense, time and again, time and again, refused to break.”